PARIS — Board of Selectmen Chairman Sam Elliot refused to let the chairman of the Oxford Hills School Board speak at a round-table discussion on rising school costs Thursday night, prompting Ron Kugell to walk out with four other directors.
“We’d like to help,” school board Chairman Kugell of Oxford said when he asked to be recognized.
Elliot refused his request.
Joining Kugell and directors Barry Patrie of Waterford, Curtis Cole of Paris, Donald Gouin of Norway and Michael Dignan of Paris in the walkout was Otisfield Selectman Rick Micklon.
Officials from five of the eight district towns met for three hours at the Paris Fire Station to discuss the impact of the preliminary 2013-14 school budget, which may require an overall 11 percent increase in property assessments next year.
The workshop was arranged by Elliot, who asked selectmen and budget committee chairmen to attend to discuss what impact the proposed assessment would have on individual towns and how best to address it as a group.
Several of the school board members are also Budget Committee members in their towns, but were not seated at the table.
“We wanted to hear their concerns and how we could help each other,” Kugell said in a phone interview after the meeting. “It’s too bad. They could have helped. Sam (Elliot) wasn’t interested in that.”
Earlier this month, SAD 17 Superintendent Rick Colpitts presented a preliminary budget that could impact the total assessment for all eight district towns with an average 10.99 percent increase, or $1,864,089 more than this fiscal year.
Last year, voters approved a $35.1 million budget with an overall 6.03 percent increase in local assessments.
Kugell said unless legislators agree to waive the state’s minimum local required share for education spending, taxpayers in the Oxford Hills School District may have to raise an additional $1.8 million for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2013.
“We’re hoping to extend the waiver,” Kugell said. “If Sam had been receptive to listening to us there are things those people could have done to help us. But then if the problem was solved, Sam wouldn’t have a cause.”
“If he thinks the way he treated us will help, he better have a reality check,” Kugell said.
Selectmen from Waterford, Otisfield, Paris, Hebron and Harrison, plus Harrison Town Manager George “Bud” Finch, Paris Budget Committee Chairman Vic Hodgkins and state Rep. Lisa Villa of Harrison volleyed a series of suggestions in the initial discussion.
Many of them said they had kept their town budgets flat or as near flat as they could for the past few years as they attempted to deal with rising assessments from not only the school district but the county and other costs.
“It’s becoming a catastrophe for any town to absorb,” Otisfield Selectman Chairman Hal Ferguson said of the rising school assessment. He said it had to be paid for partly by dipping into the surplus fund this past year.
“We can’t keep doing this. There needs to be a different way,” Hodgkins said.
Finch said school officials have to be part of the solution, but the problem goes well beyond the school budget.
“It’s a total picture problem,” he said. “I think we’re in a crisis situation.”
The group decided they should continue to meet and make it a goal to speak to the superintendent, involve legislators and better understand the school budgeting process.
Finch said the group must involve everyone.
“One size doesn’t fit all,” he said. “It can’t be us against the school board. It has to be ‘we have a real serious problem here folks.’”